First lady Melania Trump added a calming, family-friendly allure to President Trump’s reelection bid Tuesday night when she spoke at the Republican National Convention from the White House, touting her work to protect children from the evils of the internet and the achievements of immigrants like herself.
The White House billed her speech as a forceful appeal to voters, particularly women, that her husband deserves reelection to further his agenda of economic opportunity for all Americans.
It was an unusual role for Mrs. Trump, who has pursued the most traditional duties of a first lady, focusing on the mental, emotional and physical health of children.
“In my husband, you have a president who will not stop fighting for you and your families,” she said in a message directed at women and families. “I see how hard he works each day and night. And despite the unprecedented attacks from the media and a position. He will not give up. In fact, to tell him it cannot be done. He just works harder.”
The remark drew laughs from the crowd in attendance in the Rose Garden.
“He supports me,” Mrs. Trump continued. “He has built an administration with an unprecedented number of women in leadership roles and has fostered an environment where the American people are always the priority.”
The second night of the convention also featured Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who gave a recorded address from Jerusalem; presidential children Eric and Tiffany Trump, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Other speakers highlighted efforts to broaden the Republican Party, including Florida’s first Hispanic lieutenant governor, Jeanette Nunez; and Attorney General Daniel Cameron of Kentucky, the state’s first Black attorney general.
Mr. Cameron called out Democratic leaders for standing by as “anarchists mindlessly tear up American cities while attacking police officers.”
In her speech, Mrs. Trump called for an end to the violence and for the healing of racial and ethnic divisions that torment the U.S.
“I also ask people to stop the violence and looting being done in the name of justice. I never make assumptions based on the color, or person’s skin,” she said.
The convention speeches continued familiar themes from the first night, including reaching out to minority voters as speakers trumpeted the president’s determination to restore law and order to neighborhoods and block the left’s assault on American values.
The convention included Nicholas Sandmann, a teenager who became a conservative hero after refusing to back down when attacked by the left-leaning news media over his choice to wear a MAGA hat and stand tall when confronted by an American Indian activist.
“This country must unite around a president who calls the media out and refuses to allow them to create a narrative instead of reporting the facts,” he said. “I believe we must join with a president who will challenge the media to return to objective journalism.”
In her role as first lady, Mrs. Trump has brought understated confidence to the White House and has remained poised under the glare of the media, which has harshly scrutinized everything down to her designer heels.
She expressed compassion for those suffering because of “the invisible enemy COVID-19” and she voiced the president’s determination to beat it.
“My deepest sympathy goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one. And my prayers are with those who are ill or suffering,” she said. “I know many people are anxious and some feel helpless. I want you to know. You’re not alone.”
Mrs. Trump pledged: “My husband’s administration will not stop fighting until there is an effective treatment or vaccine available to everyone.”
As the only first lady of foreign-born parents, Mrs. Trump showcased in her keynote speech the campaign’s theme of America as the “land of opportunity.”
Mrs. Trump talked about how she came at age 26 to the U.S. from Slovenia, a former communist country, and realized her dream of working in the fashion industry and living in the “land of opportunity.”
“But I wanted more. I wanted to be a citizen,” she said. “After 10 years of paperwork and patience. I studied for the test and in 2006 became an American citizen.”
She called it one of the proudest moments in her life.
“I was able to achieve my own American dream,” Mrs. Trump said. “As an immigrant and a very independent woman. I understand what a privilege it is to live here, and to enjoy the freedoms and opportunities that we have.”
The evening also featured Mr. Trump holding a naturalization ceremony from the White House for five new U.S. citizens, emphasizing his support for legal immigration.
“You’ve earned the most prized, treasured, cherished and priceless possession anywhere in the world. It’s called American citizenship,” the president told them. “There is no higher honor and no greater privilege.”
Mr. Trump also granted a full pardon to Jon Ponder, a Nevada man convicted of bank robbery who turned his life around in prison and later founded a nonprofit reentry program for former inmates called Hope for Prisoners.
“Jon’s life is a beautiful testament to the power of redemption,” said Mr. Trump, issuing the pardon in a videotaped segment for the RNC. “We believe that each person is made by God for a purpose. I will continue to give all Americans, including former inmates, the best chance to build a new life and achieve their own American dream.”
The speakers reflected a wide political spectrum, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian-leaning Republican who often speaks out against U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
He said he and Mr. Trump are aligned on foreign policy.
“I’m supporting President Trump because he believes, as I do, that a strong America cannot fight endless wars,” Mr. Paul said.
In a convention hiccup, the Trump campaign canceled a planned speech by Mary Ann Mendoza, an “Angel Mom” whose son was killed by an illegal immigrant.
Ms. Mendoza retweeted a QAnon post on social media that contained an anti-Semitic message. She said she didn’t know the anti-Semitic content was included in the “very long thread.”
“My apologies for not paying attention to the intent of the whole message,” she tweeted before the second night of the convention. “That does not reflect my feelings or personal thoughts whatsoever.”
Headlining the second night, Mrs. Trump praised her husband’s accomplishments in her speech from the Rose Garden, which she recently restored as one of her priorities this year. A small audience observed the first lady’s remarks, according to Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh, who noted that COVID-19 precautions were taken.
But Mrs. Trump’s main focus during her four years in the White House has been on the nation’s children, with the launch of her “Be Best” program that aims to improve the social and physical well-being of youths.
The initiative has brought the first lady to meetings with major technology companies to improve online safety for children. She also has consulted with technology leaders to improve online capabilities for students with disabilities and spread awareness about cyberbullying.
Mrs. Trump also has shed light on the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said opioids kill 130 Americans a day. Through the administration’s emphasis and focus on the epidemic in recent years, the number of drug overdoses decreased by about 4% from 2017 to 2018.
During her time in the White House, Mrs. Trump has worked to help pregnant mothers stay drug-free so children are not born with neonatal abstinence syndrome. She also has met with families to educate them on the dangers of opioid abuse.
“Promoting education and awareness is crucial to overcoming this crisis. If we continue to work together, I know we can create a safer, healthier and more hopeful world for our children,” Mrs. Trump has said of her work against the opioid epidemic.
Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff to first lady Laura Bush, said Mrs. Trump has shown from the start that she intended not to be bound by tradition in her role.
Ms. McBride, who now is the executive-in-residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, said Mrs. Trump “felt the confidence to be able to say, ‘I don’t feel the pressure to do what others have done before me.’”
It’s that understated confidence that Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, also has observed about the first lady. She said Mrs. Trump used her background as a fashion model to dress in a way that is modern yet respectful of other countries and showcases designers from various nations to add an element of diplomacy.
“She’s done it beautifully,” Mrs. Nance said. “Yet the left can only manage to somehow find criticism with her beautiful shoes. That’s farcical for most women.”
A native of Slovenia, Mrs. Trump spoke at the Republican National Convention on a night chosen to highlight the “land of opportunity.” The first lady speaks five languages.
“For Mrs. Trump — in 10 years to go from becoming a citizen to first lady of the United States — I see that as a really wonderful example of the promise of America,” Ms. McBride said. “That’s why it’s interesting tonight she’s speaking when that’s the theme — land of opportunity. She’s an example of that.”
The media, though, have not always praised Mrs. Trump’s background and work during the past four years.
Reporters were quick to criticize her during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland when parts of her speech mirrored remarks once delivered by former first lady Michelle Obama.
The soon-to-be first lady had to quickly apologize for plagiarism.
More criticism followed when she launched her Be Best initiative. Pundits questioned her attempt to protect children from cyberbullying as the president often takes to Twitter to attack his critics and call them offensive names.
That’s something Virginia Sapiro, a political science professor at Boston University, pointed out about the first lady, saying it’s hard to see accomplishments with her “Be Best” program as many view Mr. Trump as an online bully.
“She has supposedly had an anti-bullying campaign, but it’s not clear what it has done or accomplished,’ Ms. Sapiro said. “So her ‘campaign’ has been little more than ironic.”
Ms. McBride, though, said the media treatment of Mrs. Trump has been predictable.
“Because of the controversy or conflict people feel about the spouse — the president — they’re more dismissive of the first lady,” she said. “I think because of the controversies around her husband, anything she does is dismissed.”
She applauded Mrs. Trump’s decision to embark on her “Be Best” initiative and to confront bullying on social media, despite criticism of the president for being a bully on Twitter.
“That is really a traditional side of a first lady’s [role]. They do kind of rise above a lot of the heated rhetoric of the times and appeal to people’s human nature. She’s right to raise that issue [of internet bullying]. They have to understand the criticism that she might get for tackling that issue because the president doesn’t make it easy.”
Ms. McBride said a rare misstep was Mrs. Trump’s decision in June 2018 to wear a jacket with the words “I really don’t care, do u?” on a trip to the Texas border during the administration’s family separation crisis over illegal immigrants.
“The jacket is something that will stick with her for a long time,” she said. “It was certainly not intended for the children that she was going, you know, to meet at the border that had been separated from their parents. But it’s one of those things. You’ve got to read the room. For someone who has never been in politics in her life, she’s pretty astute as to the minefields to avoid.”